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Summary:

The Dallas Morning News has become the second major paper to pull down the paywall around its news, saying the strategy failed to generate enough reader interest. It’s still going to try selling a premium service though.

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When the San Francisco Chronicle said that it was demolishing its news paywall in August, we wondered whether it might be the beginning of a paywall rollback trend. Now a second metro newspaper has decided to go the same route: the Dallas Morning News announced that its news content will once again be free to all web visitors starting on Tuesday, October 1.

Much like the SF Chronicle, the Dallas newspaper said it will continue to offer a premium service to paying readers, and it hopes to add more unique features to that service in the future, such as customization and access to events.

Not enough interest in digital subscriptions

In a comment to a reporter from the Morning News, the chief marketing officer for the paper — which is owned by A.H. Belo Corp. — was fairly blunt in his assessment of the paywall’s benefits, or lack thereof. Unlike successful paywalls at newspapers like the New York Times, the one at the Morning News didn’t generate much return, CMO Jason Dyer said:

“The pay wall solution hasn’t worked. The pay wall didn’t create a massive groundswell of [digital] subscribers.”

So what Morning News readers who decide to pay $11.96 per month will get access to instead is an “image-oriented, collage-style display” of the news — one that appears to be inspired by tablet-based content offerings such as Flipboard or Pulse, and is also similar to the new site Topicly that was recently launched by the Washington Post (although it is free).

Dallas Morning News

The Morning News paid site will also have fewer ads, the newspaper said. According to publisher Jim Moroney:

“In the first quarter of 2011, we became one of the first daily newspapers to ask consumers to pay for the content we distributed digitally. Now, we are going to experiment with another approach.”

Readers don’t want to pay for news online

Moroney said that research the newspaper did with print subscribers showed that what readers were willing to pay for wasn’t the actual content itself, but the method of delivery — that is, the printed newspaper. When offered the exact same content online for a price that was 90-percent less than the average print subscription rate, only five percent of readers said they were interested.

“What we concluded from this research was that subscribers were not paying for the content, so much as paying for how they wanted to consume the content we published. They were paying for a print experience. Now, we want to see if there are sufficient consumers who will pay for a premium digital experience.”

The Morning News says that in addition to a more visual browsing experience, readers who pay for the premium content will eventually be able to personalize the content they receive and will also have access to a “loyalty program” of some kind that could include access to events and tickets to baseball games. Early responses to the new strategy were not kind, however:

This post was updated to reflect the fact that the premium version of the Morning News doesn’t include extra content but only premium features or services.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / flyinglife

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  1. Anybody surprised? Anybody? Anybody?

    1. No, not really. Theirs was a HARD paywall which was always doomed to fail. The model that is being successfully rolled out across the world is the metered paywall as pioneered by the NYT.

  2. I reckon the best strategy for a newspaper is to look at how much it can get from redeveloping any buildings and land it owns, sell its subscription database to direct marketers and close down before losing any more money.

  3. “Reader’s Don’t Want To Pay For Online News”

    Actually, I think many people woudl pay for it. However, no one wants to be tied into paying for ALL of one news outlet’s content. I’m not going to pay $11, $12, $15, or $20 for the few articles I’ll read from the Dallas Morning News or Forbes or any other site.

    If there was a simple way to pay a small amount for content behind paywalls, I’d do it. Publishers need to realize their articles aren’t work $1 or $.50. Maybe $.02 to $.05. Allen Stern (RIP) from CenterNetworks and I had this discussion a few times in the past.

    I know there was one micropayment service that was available but led to controversy about where the publishers actually got paid. If major publishers could come together with a single micropayment system, I’d happily sign up. Perhaps a text to pay scenario. Visit a website, open your payment app, get a payment token, enter it into website, and tada you have the content. This way, there is no logging in, no third party cookies, no tracking between publishers.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d be okay with this.

    1. Sounds like the iTunes model. Works for Apple.

  4. Lori Sheppard Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    News agencies need to follow the example of the Huffington Post. You are not selling the news, you are selling advertising to advertisers who count on you to use the news to generate audience.

    Therefore, your top priority as a news agency should be to generate and aggregate that audience. Make your website interactive (to retain their attention longer) and then earn revenue from PPC advertising.

    Money is not going to come from subscriptions in a digital age. It is going to come from page views, impressions and advertising revenue.

    Lori Sheppard
    http://www.socialmemultimedia.com
    McKinney, Texas

    1. I couldn’t disagree more but I can see why from your perspective as a digital marketer you would want content creators to behave as you suggest.

    2. That model is working so well, that’s why ad blocking software/hardware is taking off, because people love web advertising so much.

  5. Perhaps newspapers should consider the very successful paywalls — the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal — are by truly national and international newspapers whose audience stretches from sea to sea and beyond. The Dallas Morning News, as cosmopolitan as it may view itself, is at best a regional paper. As is the San Francisco Examiner. If local newspapers put as much effort into improving their print products and showing advertisers the very real advantages of print advertising as they do into trying to invent the perfect paywall, we might find that the decline of newspaper readership can be stemmed.

  6. Let me count the ways that I am impressed by the Dallas Morning News:

    – They admitted, bluntly, that the paywall didn’t work. The newspaper industry has a long habit of never admitting strategic mistakes, especially one as big as a digital paywall. Kudos for trying something, and then stopping it when the evidence was clear that it wasn’t working.

    – They came to the conclusion that subscribers are paying for the experience of a printed newspaper, not the news inside of it. I’ve been arguing this point for years, but most who work in newspapers — and especially newsrooms — don’t want to hear that the experience of the full printed package, rather the news contained within, is what gets people to open their wallets.

    – They promised to continue to try new things. Do I think their new “premium” content, essentially a photo navigator of the news, will get people to pay? Not a chance. But the path to innovation always involves some less-than-stellar ideas along the way.

  7. Gordon Crovitz Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    As with most initiatives in business, 90% is in the execution. The data on best practices from the 450 publishers with paid models powered by Press+ say that the previous Dallas Morning News approach of a paywall–meaning that the “best articles” can only be read by paying subscribers–is not nearly as effective as a meter, which enables everyone to sample the best journalism, become engaged over time and based on usage eventually be asked to pay for full access. Press+ has found that the meter works brilliantly for newspapers of all sizes and for digital-only publishers, especially when readers get “all-digital access,” meaning full access to every digital version at one simple price, including web site, iPad/iPhone, Android, mobile, replica, etc. We wish the DMN well with its new approach, but the proven model is a simple meter only ever asking the people who get real value from a news brand to pay for full access to all digital versions.

    1. Thanks for the Press+ ad.

    2. I have seen the subscriber numbers at a number of newspapers using Press+. They are hardly impressive and come at the expense of younger readers who abandon the product and revenue that could be earned from advertising. Paywalls age the readership and dampen reach and frequency.

  8. As Joshua Gans says in his book “Information wants to be shared”: “the reduction in sharing will harm the value proposition for potential readers” https://kindle.amazon.com/post/p5LDfHH6QiqUt4kdLmN6KQ

    1. I’m not sure I understand your point. Could you explain it ? I can see how a reduction in sharing might reduce the number of potential readers but how does it reduce the value proposition ?

      1. Because readers value the opportunity to share.

  9. edmundsingleton Wednesday, October 2, 2013

    Its not the story that sells, the story can be found everywhere, its the story in the weeds, that is worth paying for…

  10. You can save journalism through two models: PRW and 70Jours.

    Unfortunately models described only in Finnish:

    http://kritiikkiblogi.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/5-journalismin-pelastaminen-prw-malli

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